The Topography of Historical Contingency

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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Abstract

Starting with Ben-Menahem’s definition of historical contingency as sensitivity to variations in initial conditions, we suggest that historical events and processes can be thought of as forming a complex landscape of contingency and necessity. We suggest three different ways of extending and elaborating Ben-Menahem’s concepts: (1) By supplementing them with a notion of historical disturbance; (2) by pointing out that contingency and necessity are subject to scaling effects; (3) by showing how degrees of contingency/necessity can change over time. We also argue that further development of Sterelny’s notion of conditional inevitability leads to our conclusion that the topography of historical contingency is something that can change over time.

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References

1)

Y. Ben-Menahem, “Historical contingency”. Ratio, 10 (1997), 99–107.

3)

J. Beatty, “Replaying life’s tape”, Journal of Philosophy, 103, (2006), 336–362.

5)

S.J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).

6)

Ben-Menahem, “Historical contingency”, 107.

7)

S. Conway Morris, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

9)

Ben-Menahem, “Historical necessity and contingency”, 127–128.

10)

K. Sterelny, “Explanatory pluralism in evolutionary biology”, Biology and Philosophy, 11 (1996), 193–214.

11)

S.A. Kaufmann, Investigations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) and in S. Kaufmann, “Towards a post reductionist science: The open universe”, ArXiv:0907.2492v1 [physics.hist-ph] 15 Jul 2009.

12)

K. Sterelny, “Another view of life”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, 36, (2005), 585–593.

13)

Beatty, “Replaying life’s tape”, 362.

14)

Ben-Menahem, “Historical necessity and contingency”, 124–125.

16)

Sterelny, “Another view of life”, 593.

19)

S. Wright, “The roles of mutation, inbreeding, crossbreeding and selection in evolution” in Proceedings of 6th International Congress on Genetics, Volume 1, (1932) 356–366.

21)

G.R. McGhee Jr., The Geometry of Evolution: Adaptive Landscapes and Theoretical Morphospaces (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

22)

K.J. Niklas, “Effects of hypothetical developmental barriers and abrupt environmental changes on adaptive walks in a computer-generated domain for early vascular land plants”, Palaeobiology, 23, (1997), 63–76; K.J. Niklas, “Evolutionary walks through a land plant morphospace”, Journal of Experimental Botany, 50, (1999), 39–52; K.J. Niklas, “Computer models of early plant evolution”, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 32, (2004), 47–66.

23)

Sterelny, “Another view of life”, 588.

Figures

  • Illustration of catchment concept and its representation of pathways of necessity and contingency.
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  • Close-up of ‘problematic’ zone where measurement accuracy is less than diffference between catchment divides.
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  • Entrenchment of channel in network.
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  • Illustration of parallel evolution. Channel constrained by factors such as environment, morphology, physiology and reproductive biology.
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  • Illustration of convergent evolution. Channel B crosses into channel A at X and the shaded area represented the potential pathways from X to the channel in catchment A for the species. Note the much lower divide for channel B implying that the species in that channel has developed into a section of the catchment where constraints on the future development of the species lessen. This process is analogous to river capture in drainage development.
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